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Split/Second: Velocity

Bomb the race.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Here's the elevator pitch, Mr Bruckheimer: a brutal racing TV show, a merciless media motorsport in which contestants have to dodge traps, explosions and stage-managed catastrophes - hazards which they earn the right to trigger on each other through stylish driving. The scene: airports, power plants, dams, dockyards, anywhere that can be rigged to blow so the rubble, concrete and twisted metal can rain from the sky. The stars: sleek supercars, rugged pickups and menacing muscle cars hell-bent on taking each other down.

It's triple-threat reality TV, Mr Bruckhiemer. It's Pop Idol with dynamite, the X Factor with its foot on the gas. It's got everything: Speed! Explosions! Er, more speed and explosions!

Like the Hollywood movies and TV spectaculars it emulates, Split/Second: Velocity is a simple proposition. It presents a single idea that's bold, brash and basic, one that anyone could understand. It's the ultimate in high concept videogaming with just one arch twist, the TV show conceit that puts its gleeful, apparently unrefined stupidity in quote marks (as well as serving family-conscious publisher Disney with a useful disclaimer - it's all just for show, kids).

While that gimmick gives Split/Second its contemporary mass-media sheen and grants it a little ironic distance, its blunt style also reminds you of a simpler time in gaming when arcade racers like this ruled the land and only needed the promise of speed and spectacle to get by. They didn't need complex progression or even depth. They just needed to be fast, loud, exciting and fun.

On-screen readouts are even tidied away to a little holograph floating behind your car, the better to let the untrammelled spectacle wash over you.

Split/Second is all those things. And while at first it might seem worryingly lightweight, its purity is in the end a deep breath of fresh air - while its refinement, faultless execution and awesome visuals keep you coming back long after you thought you'd have exhausted its basic appeal to your adrenaline gland.

Even those quote marks around the one-syllable exclamation of Split/Second's gameplay are impeccably crafted. Brighton's Black Rock Studio has imagined the forceful pace of American primetime TV made with the limitless budget of a summer blockbuster film, and it's a totally convincing fantasy.

The look is perfect, a saturated wash of post-processed teal and orange under a glowering Tony Scott / Top Gear filter that turns blue skies black and any light into a smouldering, smoggy sunset. The camera shudders with handheld panic at speed and leans dramatically into every corner. A booming synthesised orchestra climaxes bombastically under every race as if Hans Zimmer has personally scored your performance. Smash cut to CG logo; Michael Bay would be proud.

Hoard all three available power plays and you can execute a massive route-changing event or super-destructive explosion. It's more cathartic than tactically smart.

It's a class-leading presentation, and what a spectacle it frames. Every race track is a series of photogenic opportunities for pyrotechnic disaster on an astonishing scale. Power-plant smokestacks implode and crumble, cutting off one route and creating another. Bridges collapse, mountainsides are blown out and whole trains topple off elevated tracks, scattering debris across the road and reshaping the racing line. Air freighters land on the race track and helicopters drop dumper trucks on your rivals. Cruise liners topple into aircraft carriers to form the world's most expensive short-cut. It's so over-the-top it's almost funny - in fact, it often is funny, with hazards exhibiting as much slapstick comic timing as they do visual fireworks.